Edinburgh

Edinburgh was next and last on my list for my Easter vacation.  It was magical and definitely worthy of Harry Potter!  One of the first things you see after leaving the bus and/or train station is a giant monument to Sir Walter Scott with Edinburgh Castle as a backdrop! Edinburgh Castle is impressively seated on top of a dormant volcano and is the top of the Royal Mile (a very busy tourist street).  The other end of the Royal Mile houses Holyrood Palace where the Queen stays when she visits and the Scottish parliament.

After taking my all night bus from London and stopping by my hostel for a quick breakfast, I headed to Edinburgh Castle.  Along the way, I got distracted by the Scotland peace centre and took a good amount of time browsing their books and information.  I am determined to find something similar in Belfast!

Peace Garden sign outside of the Peace Centre

Then, I headed on my way up the volcano to the castle.  I was able to get concession pricing to this as well as pretty much everything else I saw on my trip by showing my BVS ID card (thanks Elgin!!!).  Edinburgh Castle is very impressive from a military standpoint and is well outfitted for defense/offense, at least in the standards of a couple hundred years ago.  I most enjoyed seeing the crown jewels of Scotland and the 1pm cannon fire, which is done to make sure everyone has the right time 🙂  I have to say, though, that I couldn’t do all of the military museums that the castle had to offer.  The writing in the descriptions is just a bit too militaristic for my pacifist brain…sorry!  However, I did learn that Americans were given less than sufficient rations because, unlike other political prisoners, they were thought to be pirates 🙂 I think that’s one of the nicer terms I’ve heard Americans being called.

Edinburgh Castle

Sign describing Americans as pirates that get less food upon imprisonment.

1pm cannon

My next stop was a scotch whiskey tasting at the Scottish Whiskey Experience.  All three scotches that I sampled were very good, but I definitely liked the smoky, medium bodied one at the end the best.  I also was able to amuse myself listening to a french man debate with the bar tender about why he couldn’t get a smaller sampling of scotch.  In France you can try a small sip of wine to decide which one you want to buy, however Edinburgh has a law that they can’t serve anything under 45ml so no free small tastes.  This did not please the French man.  I am not sure if he got himself sorted because I finished my tasting before he was done arguing with the bartender.  But hopefully things ended well!

Scotch tasting complete with a glass of water and souvenir tasting glass.

An underground vault tour was my next choice, but with an hour to kill I stopped by the Museum of Childhood.  It’s definitely a quirky little place started by a hoarder that didn’t particularly like children.  The collection is pretty good, though, and I imagine is nostalgic for people a couple years older than myself.

Museum of Childhood

The vault tour was pretty spooky even though I did the history tour and not the ghost tour.  Basically a large bridge was constructed in Edinburgh from the castle to the ground level with a series of arches.  Since so many people wanted to live within the walls of Edinburgh they ended up building right up and through the bridge.  The poor lived in the bottom of this structure most likely along with saloons and wine storage facilities.  They are still finding lots of bits and pieces in the rubble, including some artifacts from the body snatchers!

Day 2 was very busy.  I did a quick walk of the Royal Botanic Gardens before heading to Henderson’s for some vegetarian haggis, which was out of this world!  After haggis, I visited the writer’s museum and was able to learn more about Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.  Overall, I probably like the Dublin writer’s museum a bit more because it covers a greater scope of writing, but this museum was alright.  I was just hoping to learn about some of the other amazing writers that have come from Edinburgh as well, such as the current poet laureate of Scotland and JK Rowling perhaps?  One cool thing that they did have on display was a book sculpture that was anonymously left at the museum a couple of years ago depicting a scene from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.   Apparently these book sculptures have been left anonymously at several museums in support of the arts.  I think that is very fun and interesting!  I think we need a Holmes to figure this one out 🙂

The Royal Botanic Gardens has one of the best collection of Chinese vegetation outside of China.

Henderson's vegetarian haggis is even more delicious than it looks!!!

After the Writer’s museum, I headed to the Scottish parliament which is very quirky and interesting.  The architecture and design were really well thought out in terms of sustainability and blending in with the surroundings.  All wood used in the building has come from sustainable sorces and a series of unique grass and plants to Scotland are planted in a variety of gardens.  Furthermore, the architecture and landscaping are designed to make the building look like it is rising up from the land to symbolize the parliaments connection with the land of Scotland.  It is definitely a very interesting, artistic, and well thought out building.

Scottish Parliament

I then ran over to the Surgeon’s museum to see one of the best collections of medical and surgical items in the UK.  It was stunning!  I definitely enjoyed harking back to my Biochemistry and Mayo Clinic days seeing all the examples of defects and tumors and medical successes and failures preserved in one convenient location.  There was also a great exhibit on Sir Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes and several examples of surgeries being broadcast.  I just wish I could have spent more time there, but it closes pretty early.

I headed back down the Royal mile to Holyrood Palace and figured out it was far too expensive for me to see the palace or the museum, so I went into the gift shop and watched the 30 min DVD of the palace and museum they were trying to sell.  Yay traveling on a budget!

Holyrood Palace through the gates

Afterwards, I tried to outrun the rain by hiking up Sir Arthur’s seat.  I managed to miss getting soaked and hiked all the way to the top of the highest point in Edinburgh!  There were amazing views and great ruins of a medieval chapel on the way.

Medieval chapel ruins on my way up to Sir Arthur's seat.

Me at the top of Sir Arthur's seat...it was a little bit windy 🙂

Finally, I ended my vacation at the Elephant House where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter.  The food was delicious with a great vegetarian and vegan friendly selection.  Plus, it had some of the best coffee I’ve had since leaving America!  Overall I give JK Rowling two thumbs up for her writing place choice 🙂  It was a very picturesque way to spend the evening as well with the windows looking out over the sunsetting behind Edinburgh Castle.  Overall, this was a great end to my vacation!

View from the Elephant House.

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Stonehenge

My next stop was Stonehenge.  My travel wasn’t quite as organized as I had hoped since the 9:30am train that I had planned to take was canceled.  I ended up taking the 10:30am train and just didn’t get to finish the Stonehenge tour, but c’est la vie.

Stonehenge was AMAZING!  It is awe evoking in a way that is very similar to how I feel when I see the grand canyon–it is something both beautiful and beyond my understanding.  Overall, it is definitely worth seeing!

Stone henge is made up of three horse shoe shapes of circles surrounded by a set of 12 stone arches.  The whole thing is thought to have been erected in three stages between 3000 and 2000BC.  This is even more impressive when you learn that some of the stone were transported from as far away as Pembrokeshire, Wales, 160 miles from the site!

The exact purpose of Stonehenge is unknown but it seems to be a calendar, burial site, and demonstration of power.  During each month the sun shines through a different archway.  Furthermore, the sun aligns with the alter stone on the Summer and Winter solstice, so these dates are thought to be particularly important.  Inside the outer ring, there is a set of holes that are first thought to have held timber and were later used to bury the cremated dead.  There are also many burial sites all around Stonehenge, confirming that it had been used as a place of burial for years.  The demonstration of power is evident from the size and scope of the site.  It is impressive even by today’s standards.  Whoever organized the building of this site, certainly had power and resources.

Drawing of what Stonehenge is thought to originally have looked like.

 

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Cardiff

I was a little worried when I first arrived in Cardiff and it was pouring down water from the sky.  However, by Tuesday morning, the weather was gorgeous!  I was able to spend my whole morning exploring Cardiff Castle and took a break from the sun (who would have thought I would have to do that!) by looking at some more amazing art and natural history in Cardiff’s National Museum.  Then, a group of people from the hostel and myself went to see a punk-folk/anti-folk group of bands and it was really fun!  There may have been some sitting on the ground for music story time 😀

Cardiff Castle through the trees of Bute Park

Cardiff Castle Keep

At the national museum I learned about the wooly rhinos that once inhabited Wales 🙂 They are short and cute looking with definite wooly mammoth friendship potential!

The National Museum had my favorite Van Gough painting 🙂

My second day in Cardiff almost involved as much good weather.  I went to Cardiff Bay and tried some amazing pastries called Welsh Cakes, which are basically like a cross between a shortbread cookie and a scone.  I also saw Craft in the Bay (which has a bunch of AMAZING exhibits of art from local artists), the Pierhead building, the Welsh Parliament building, and the Norwegan Church where Ronald Dahl was Christened.  After that, I headed to Caerphilly (a 30 min train ride away) to see the Caerphilly castle.  The castle is HUGE and sits on a 30 acre lake.  It is one of the best preserved medieval castles in the UK and one of the first castles to use a concentric circle defense system (there is the keep, a big wall, and a moat; then a field, a big wall, and a moat; and a field, a big wall, and the lake). It is at this castle where I also experienced my first sunny hail storm and was drenched!  The book I was carrying in my bag is forever squiggly 🙂

Cardiff Bay (the red building is the Pierhead building; the gold roofed building is the Millennium building; and the silver, curved-roof building is the Parliament building)

Caerphilly Castle Keep

Crossbow I hid next to when it started to hail. The white line by the footpath is the hail accumulating...

Caerphilly Castle

I also want to mention that I stayed in the BEST hostel I have ever experienced!  Riverhouse Backpackers is everything I want in life.  They give you an amazing breakfast, with four different types of juice, a selection of breads and jams, cereal, oatmeal, fresh fruit, and soy milk; they have a great selection of DVD’s that you can borrow for free; fluffy towels; waterfall shower heads; and free food in the evening.  If anyone that reads this ever needs a hostel in Cardiff, you should definitely stay here!

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Glasgow

A new post has been long due!!!  I’ll try and do some updates because a lot has happened.  As for the moment, though, I am on Easter holiday and have the week off.  I am spending my week touring Glasgow, Cardiff, Stonehenge, and Edinburgh.  I am on my second night in Glasgow, and it is a great city!

Glasgow reminds me a lot of Chicago, mostly because the architecture and shopping is amazing!  There are several well known architects that have designed buildings here; the most popular of which is a man named Mackintosh.  His designs are phenomenal!  I was pretty skeptical about how much I could appreciate architecture, but this man and his wife Margaret Macdonald are out of this world!  I definitely recommend looking up some of their designs 🙂

My second favorite part of Glasgow is the Kelvingrove museum.  I spent three hours there today and didn’t even get through half of what it had to offer.  Plus, it was free!  It has a really good French collection with Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir, along with more modern art like Dali!  It was also really nice to learn a bit about some of the Scottish artists like the Glasgow boys.  And the art is only half of the museum!  The other half, which I didn’t get to, is all about wild life and history.  Overall, fantastic!

I’ll stop gabbing now and show some  pictures 🙂

You can't really tell from this picture, but there was about a mile long group of kilt-clad scots walking along the bank...I assume that this a daily ritual and not just because of Easter 🙂

The only remaining Clyde-built wooden ship afloat in the UK. It's pretty cool and worth a look!

A few of one of the biggest groups of bikers I have ever seen out for an Easter ride!

A bunch of heads hanging from the sky light...I like it but couldn't tell you why!

The front of Kelvingrove Museum/Hogwarts want-to-be 😛

Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. Has a great selection, but one of the four exhibits was closed and sometimes I can only do so much modern art... This front statue is my favorite, though 🙂

Great view of the city with a recording giving you a great overview of historical and modern day Glasgow.

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Christmas Holiday

The most fantastic reindeer socks that I have ever seen!

This Christmas was the first Christmas that I’ve spent away from family, let alone in a different country, and it was fantastic! (No offense, Mom) I tried Irish traditional dancing for the first time, made a hazelnut caramel apple pie, went to a friends house for a Christmas dinner, saw the Jack and the Beanstalk pantomime (a children’s holiday play in Ireland…I think they are hilarious!  Men dressed up as women, telling bad jokes?  Count me in!) at the Grand Opera House, went ice skating (I only made one person fall, but it was our new friend who kindly drove us…oops!), saw Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, ordered pizza in another country for the first time (Dominos has Tuesday specials in N. Ireland too!), went to a pub with friends, watched way too much TV, went to Lavery’s Pub for New Years, and did a little bit of shopping.  Overall, it was a fantastic time!  I made new friends and got to experience a little more of Belfast 🙂

Lena, Sam, and My Christmas Dinner

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Halloween Holiday Pt. 3 Dublin

The third leg of our holiday involved a trip to Dublin!  It’s the first time I’ve been back since studying abroad 3 years ago.  We stayed with my friend from university, PMcC.  PMcC is currently getting his masters at Trinity and served as a tremendous host and tour guide!

The O'Connell House (ie the OC) From left to right: Sam, Prof. Whelan, Me, Eimear, PMcC

During our time in Dublin, I went to the O’Connell house and said hello to my professor, Kevin Whelan, and Eimear!  It was nice to see them again and to catch them up on the news that I’m in Northern Ireland now…I am a terrible communicator sometimes 😛  We also saw the book of Kells, Dublin Castle, St. Stephan’s Green, Marion Square, the Gaol, and of course had a crepe at Lemon and a scone at Keoghs! Yum!

Grafton Street

the Gaol, which is super spooky!

Dublin castle set up for the inauguration of their new president! Presidents are elected for 7 year terms.

Dublin is as gorgeous as ever, and I was sad to see our trip end 😦  But I do LOVE Belfast, so all is well!

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Halloween Holiday Pt. 2 Galway

After Derry, we headed to Galway for the next two days.  Because Ireland is Ireland, we had beautiful weather on our bus ride from Derry to Galway while we were stuck on the bus.  Then when we are taking a ferry to Inis Mor the next day, the weather is pretty terrible and Sam and I almost get sea sick.  The experience was just more authentic that way.  Inis Mor is the largest of the Aran Islands and is gorgeous!  We took a mini bus tour which took us to the fort, the seven churches, and the most western side of the island.

Me about to board the shakiest ferry ride of my life.

Entrance to the fort

Seven Churches

Most western part of the island and Europe at one point

The next day we explored Galway a bit.  Lynch’s castle is a bit of a let down, but there is an excellent museum near the Spanish Arch and St. Nicholas’s Cathedral is gorgeous.  There is a picture of Jesus and JFK having a cup tea hanging in the cathedral, which I think is great.  After exploring the Spanish Quarter a bit, it was time to head to our bus to Dublin.

St. Nicholas's Cathedral

Spanish Arch

Lynch's Castle

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